Joe Pettit hovered Tuesday near the huge collection of different-size fans marked for auction inside the former American LaFrance firetruck factory in rural Berkeley County.

If you go

The auction of American LaFrance equipment begins at 9 a.m. Wednesday at 164 Spring Grove Drive, off Cypress Gardens Road, near Moncks Corner.

The Charleston resident owns several horses in Kentucky and is interested in picking up about 20 of the 24-inch fans to cool the stables.

He scoured the cavernous building at the end of a winding road looking for anything else that might interest him.

"You usually get some great deals when they are clearing out stuff," Pettit said. "You always find a few gems."

Bryan Ramey and co-worker Rob Poli circled pallets filled with odds and ends used at the closed vehicle-building plant. The two work for Spartan Fire and Emergency Apparatus in Summerville, where the Spartanburg-based company recently opened a second firetruck dealership.

They were interested in forklifts, welding machines and air conditioners. "We are basically seeing what they have," Ramey said.

A retired Anglican priest from Oklahoma who now lives in Summerville perused the aisles for a few items for his workshop at home.

"I enjoy auctions," the Rev. George Miley said. "There's always a bunch of guys like me that will say, 'There's something in that bin that I want.' To not at least look around to me is a crime."

Throughout the day, they and a steady stream of others filed down the rows of wrenches, drills, saws, riveters, chisels, mallets, hammers and other hand tools, sizing up what was available and hoping to walk off with a prize if the bidding goes their way.

Also on the block are heavy machinery, cabinets, chairs, kitchen equipment and numerous other gadgets used by the failed emergency vehicle maker. In all, more than 950 items or bins will be auctioned off starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, said Frank Rome of Cincinnati Industrial Auctioneers.

What's not being sold are 23 high-rise racks of inventory and unfinished firetrucks sitting on the edge of the factory floor.

"The disposition of those items has not been determined," Rome said.

He expects the number of bidders to be 75 or better, adding that it could range anywhere from 25 to 125, depending on interest.

The company shut its doors abruptly in January, and Berkeley County officials hope the sale will help it collect more than $650,000 American LaFrance owes in tax-related fees.

Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis said this is the first time in South Carolina a company has been delinquent on its fee-in-lieu of tax payments and a county has had to seize property to try to recover its money. Counties often entice companies by offering to allow them to pay a discounted fee over several years instead of property taxes.

Based on several auction companies' assessments, which Davis said varied widely, he said the county believes the sale will generate at least $400,000, but it could go as high as $1 million.

Davis said he expects all the proceeds, no matter how much, to go to Berkeley County because the county had to continue paying rent on the building after the vehicle-maker moved out.

The supervisor intends to stop by the auction Wednesday.

"I will probably be out there some, but I won't be bidding," Davis said. "I'll just be checking things out."

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or